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Arts / Museums

Houston’s Best Art Galleries and Museums

The Ultimate Guide to America’s Underrated Creative Mecca

BY // 06.10.17

Art mania is sweeping the town. Houston ranks among America’s major destinations for museums, galleries, and increasingly public commissions, as well as a significant talent pool of working artists. Here’s your go-to guide to the best art hotspots in the city. (Follow the website links for info on the latest exhibitions.)

Museums

Art Car Museum, 140 Heights Blvd. Also known as Garage Mahal, the jaunty David Best-designed exterior hints at the outsider energy the museum promulgates. The sister institution to the Station Museum, ACM is famous for its open call shows covering a wide array of sociopolitical hot buttons. And of yes — don’t forget its bounty of art cars.

Asia Society Texas Center, 1370 Southmore Blvd. Yoshio Taniguchi’s first free-standing building in America — his addition for MoMA does not count — is a masterwork itself, worthy of any acolyte of architecture’s devotion. Add to that exhibitions from the historic and sublime (like the serene traveling splendors of the Rockefeller Collection that inaugurated the new center) to the edgy and contemporary, global think tank lectures, and programming that lures audiences to performances like its annual sand mandala created by Tibetan Buddhist monks, and you have the allure and promise of Asia Society fulfilled in Houston.

Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston, 4173 Elgin St. This outpost of the avant-garde presents some of the most cutting-edge contemporary exhibitions in Texas, including surveys for Whitney Biennial- or Venice Biennale-exhibited talents. Also shop the museum’s offerings — functional collectibles crafted by students of the university’s industrial design department.

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose Blvd. Housed in a sleek parallelogram of metal, the CAMH was among the first of a handful of spaces in America showing artists of our time. In its seventh decade, the museum boasts a history of seminal exhibitions, including solos early on in their careers for talents ranging from Cindy Sherman to Frank Gehry, both of whom were presented at the museum in the 1980s. Don’t miss the Mel Chin sculpture sprouting from a pyramid at back of the building, and shop the arresting museum store.

Houston Museum of African American Culture, 4807 Caroline St. Housed in a former internet company building in the heart of the Museum District, the five-years old HMAAC is a portal for understanding the contributions of African-Americans in Houston and beyond. Exhibitions and programming, led by collector, philanthropist, and museum CEO John Guess Jr. are topical and important, ranging from showcasing Houston talents like the late Bert Long Jr. and Dr. John Biggers to presenting traveling historical riches such as the Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art. Poetry jams, film screenings, and contemporary exhibitions that dig into subjects in depth — Black Lives Matter to issues of gentrification — make HMAAC one of the town’s most dynamic and vital museums.

Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Dr. T. Rex, amazing gems, fabulous Fabergé, and Tut’s treasures reign at one of America’s most visited and important museums devoted to natural science. “Mummies of the World” and “Cabinets of Curiosity” are both on extended engagement. While you’re there, take in an IMAX production or bask in the Cockrell Butterfly Center’s live wing show.

The Menil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross, menil.org. The Menil’s Renzo Piano-designed building, which opened in 1987, is considered one of the world’s most significant works of architecture of the last 50 years. Its celebrated yet understated collection brings together centuries and millennia of global artwork, from the Neolithic era and antiquity through today. Particularly outstanding are galleries devoted to African art and Surrealism.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. Ranked among the country’s Top 10 museums by size and encyclopedic collection, the MFAH is celebrated for its departments of photography, Latin American art, American art, and the Glassell Collection of African, Indonesian, and Pre-Columbian Gold, as well as the off-campus historic house museums Bayou Bend and Rienzi, both devoted to decorative arts and distinguished by beautiful settings and John Staub architecture.

The Printing Museum, 1324 W. Clay. This treasure of a niche museum is temporarily closed while undergoing restoration after a fire, but you can visit its gift shop for printed matters.

Station Museum of Contemporary Art, 1502 Alabama St. Founded by Ann and Jim Harithas, Station and its sister institution, the Art Car Museum (140 Heights Blvd., artcarmuseum.com), function as kunsthalles for activism and sociopolitical issues.

University Museum at Texas Southern University, 3100 Cleburne St. Under the directorship of the revered art historian Dr. Alvia Wardlaw, University Museum is a known by insiders for presenting exhibitions spanning the local to the global of African-American talents. Unveiled in 2000, memorable shows range from its closely watched annual “Citywide African American Artists Exhibition” to traveling blockbusters such as contemporary masterworks from the Elliot and Kimberly Perry Collection to TSU alum/staff photographer Earlie Hudnall’s powerful black-and-white, Smithsonian-collected imagery.

 

Galleries (by Area)

Colquitt Gallery Row, 2625 through 2815 Colquitt; 3508 and 3510 Lake St. The city’s first concentration of galleries flocked to Colquitt in the 1980s, and the street is still a good bet for legendary dealers Moody Gallery, Hooks-Epstein Galleries, Parkerson Gallery, and Catherine Couturier Gallery, along with more recent arrivals Laura Rathe Fine Art, Nicole Longnecker Gallery, and Gray Contemporary. Thornwood Gallery and Dean Day Gallery complete the lineup.

Downtown. Sleuth out rising art dealer Pablo Cardoza. His surprisingly pristine space, Cardoza Fine Art (805A William St.) is the best bet for the next art superstar, and you may just find Houston mega-talent Mark Flood holding court.

Galleria/Uptown/River Oaks District. For Peter Max to Picasso prints and ceramics, graphics staple Off The Wall holds court in the Galleria (5015 Westheimer). Colquitt denizen Laura Rathe Fine Art (1700 Post Oak Boulevard in 1 BLVD Place) boasts its second location in Uptown, in a new glossy white cube.

Heights/West End. Recently the action has fanned out from the West End’s respected Hiram Butler Gallery, with its serene garden, home base for James Turrell, Ellsworth Kelly, Jennifer Bartlett, and Houston’s own Joe Havel (4520 Blossom St.), to Heights gallerists Clarke & Associates, representing James Surls (301 E. 11th); neighboring Redbud Gallery of the masterful works on paper (303 E. 11th); and Apama Mackey Gallery of the mod shipping containers (628 E. 11th). Another intriguing stop is Booker-Lowe Gallery, for Aboriginal works (4623 Feagan), among the few dealers in the U.S. — or the world — to exhibit this collecting field. And don’t forget about G Spot (310 E. 9th); despite its campy name provocative fare is served that will also appeal to feminists.

Midtown/Isabella Court Gallery Complex. A nexus for the top contemporary action, the historic Isabella complex is bookended by Inman Gallery, the first dealer to show the MFAH Core Fellows (3901 Main St.), and Devin Borden Gallery, with its emphasis on today’s conceptual Texans (3917 Main St.). Also recommended: art-smart Art Palace (3913 Main St.) and more recent arrival Samara Gallery (3911 Main St.) with its best bets John Hovig and David Graeve; and nearby Zoya Tommy Gallery, exhibiting a fresh mix of Texans and internationals, including star senior Houston painter Perry House (4102 Fannin). Wrap Midtown viewing with a stop at the temple of Euro-to-Texas Minimalism, Gallery Sonja Roesch (2309 Caroline).

Montrose/4411 Montrose Gallery Building, 4411 Montrose. In the Museum District, this architecturally distinguished gray box of a building, designed by U of H professor Peter Zweig, houses five dealers of often international significance: Barbara Davis, Enrique Guerrero, Cindy Lisica, David Shelton, and Anya Tish. Nearby are two spaces that make an impact for their programming: First up, Jonathan Hopson Gallery in a handsomely restored bungalow (904 Marshall), rolls out museum-level exhibitions, which challenge the viewer, and are nuanced and conceptually driven. Also investigate Blue/Orange Gallery (1208 West Gray St.): don’t let the simplistic moniker fool you — this scrappy little gallery in a Montrose bungalow is HQ for a scene, and should be on every young collector’s radar. Then there’s the gallery within a classic hotel, La Colombe d’Or (3410 Montrose), where Bran Symondson’s AK-47s turned into art command attention. Round out the Montrose art trek with a stop at Archway Gallery, celebrating 40 years as a artists-owned coop, also a good bet for crafts.

Richmond/West Alabama Corridor. Two destinations make impressive neighbors, mere minutes apart: blue-chip McClain Gallery (2242 Richmond) and Miami Basel-exhibited Sicardi Gallery for Latin American masters (1506 W. Alabama). Also in the vicinity, Koelsch Gallery adds a note of droll with its often craft-centered programming (801 Richmond Ave), while 10 blocks west, the independently minded Rudolph Blume Fine Art /ArtScan Gallery, (1836 Richmond Ave.) established nearly two decades ago by Volker Eisele and the late Sean Rudolph (and continued on by Rudolph’s partner, Brad Blume along with Eisele) features often brilliant, unexpected programming. For School of Paris, head to Nolan-Rankin Galleries (3637 West Alabama) in the booming West Alabama design district. The same design center address is also home to Octavia Art Gallery, a Houston outpost of a New Orleans mother ship, presenting a gamut of contemporary painting and photography, including the Pop/conceptual photo images of the late San Antonio master Chuck Ramirez.

Third Ward. Showcasing African and Afro-Cuban painting, sculpture, and craft in a restored bungalow the richly stocked The Gite Gallery (2024 Alabama) represents the vision of former TV journalist Lloyd Gite.

Upper Kirby/River Oaks/Rice University. Art runs through these bastions of inner-city privilege and power. The players include iconic Meredith Long & Company, established 1957 (2323 San Felipe); powerhouse Texas Gallery (2012 Peden), among the first the show Judd, Mapplethorpe, and Rauschenberg; globally focused Deborah Colton Gallery (2445 North Boulevard); the diverse, painting focused stable of Gremillion & Co. Fine Art (2501 Sunset), and William Reaves | Sarah Foltz Fine Art with its emphasis on historic Texas talents (2143 Westheimer). A good bet for the hefty figurative painting and sculpture of Fernando Botero is Art of the World Gallery (2201 Westheimer), which represents the Colombian master.

 

Public Art: Unique and Not to Be Missed

The Cistern at Buffalo Bayou Park, 105 Sabine St. For its inaugural commission, The Cistern tapped Venezuelan artist Magdalena Fernández to reconfigure her light and sound piece Rain with astounding results. The immersive, hypnotic installation in this underground industrial ruin is co-presented by the Buffalo Bayou Conservancy and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (an experience not to be missed, through June 25). Stay tuned for future commissions.

Twilight Epiphany Skyspace, Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion, Rice University, skyspace.rice.edu. Among artist James Turrell’s most dramatic skyspaces, this double-decker iteration features lighting shows cued to sunrise and sunset (ongoing, gratis). Sign up online for the sunset show; no reservations needed for sunrise.

 

Nonprofits

Alabama Song (2521 Oakdale), a cross between a gallery and a project space housed in a historic home in the Museum District promotes big ideas about contemporary art-making and community from a place of authenticity.

Art League Houston1953 Montrose Blvd. Approaching 70 years, ALH, housed in a shiny metal building along Montrose’s main drag, remains relevant to the community with smart programming promoting diversity as well as its lauded healing-arts classes. Texas Artist of the Year and Texas Patron of the Year exhibitions, taking place every fall, build the Art League brand and are touchstones to the state of art in our state.

Box 13 ArtSpace, 6700 Harrisburg Blvd. A former Singer Sewing Machine showroom in the East End, the Box is the place where curators go to discover raw talent. Founded by a group of artists who used to inhabit Commerce Street Artists Warehouse, the Box is the front line of studios meets incubator space.

Community Artists’ Collective, Bermac Building, 4101 San Jacinto. Marking three decades on a mission to promote and highlight Houston’s African-American talent pool, some pretty celebrated artists have been presented by CAC throughout the years: Whitney Biennial-exhibited Annette Lawrence, Rome Prize-winner Bert Long Jr., The Menil Collection-collected David McGee, and Tierney Malone of Jazz Church Houston encompass some of The Collective’s rich exhibition history.

DiverseWorks3400 Main St. In its new MATCH location, DW is poised to reach a Midtown audience that can benefit from its intelligent exhibitions and performances, which are rigorous and conceptually challenging. In a lighter frame of mind, spring’s annual Luck of the Draw benefit is an equal opportunity happening appealing to seasoned collectors and novices alike. 

FotoFest2000 Edwards St. From its epic Silver Street Studios space, FotoFest mounts one of the world’s best and long-running biennials. In 2018, the topic is India. Between biennials, the nonprofit showcases photography of global relevance, focused upon issues including the refugee crisis, environmental concerns especially water, land use, and vanishing species, and documents marginalized groups such as LGBTQ residents living under-the-radar in conservative lands. FotoFest also acts an a forum of discovery, through its acclaimed Meeting Place programs — now held in Russia and China — while nurturing emerging photographers through its guest curated “Talent in Texas,” presented during non Biennial years.

GalleryHomeland, 3401 Harrisburg. Paul Middendorf curates a space in a former industrial laundry on the East Side. Stay tuned for the grand opening of GalleryHomeland’s latest home, and prepare for fine art fare, as well as (hopefully) the return of the popular Sunday Soup benefits.

Galveston Artist Residency, 2521 Ships Mechanic Row. The latest reason to head to the Island is this avant-garde national residency program, housed in innovatively redesigned industrial structures near the Strand.

Galveston Arts Center2127 Strand St. Now back in its original grand edifice, a turn-of-the-century former bank building, GAC is finally fully back in business post Ike. Recent curatorial hire Dennis Nance continues the tradition established by iconic former curator Clint Willour — being a talent scout for Texas’ best and brightest, with art walks and exhibitions, rolling out every six weeks, of (usually) three artists loosely grouped by theme.

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main St. A non-collecting museum devoted to the bounty of craft work, HCCC is also renowned for its residency program. Find resident makes most days in their Craft Center studios, and pop in to learn about their process. Show the HCCC Asher Gallery for a cool round up of notable works by nationally denizens of glass, wood, metal, and fiber.

Houston Center for Photography1441 W. Alabama St. Founded 1981 as an artists’ organization, HCP — along with FotoFest — are two of the reasons that Houston is a photo town. And in collaboration with FotoFest, Houston Center for Photography every other year rolls out a survey of novel approaches to photography statewide, the vaunted “Talent in Texas,” as well an annual juried membership show that serves up photographic riches and reflects a range of aesthetics, subjects, and approaches to the media.

Lawndale Art Center4912 Main St. Consistently the place for emerging and mid-career talents to try out new ideas, Lawndale also boasts a annual, eagerly watched residency program. New director Stephanie Mitchell, a Whitney Museum and Drawing Center vet, continues to elevate the brand of Lawndale, witness Spring 2017’s exhibition for Glassell Core Fellows taking place at LAC (while the new Glassell is being constructed), and a spring benefit, An Exquisite Evening, with a sprinkling of Surrealism.

Moody Center for the Arts6100 Main St. Quite possibly the most exciting addition to Houston’s cultural landscape within the past decade, the Moody Center is all about the marriage of science and art, while respected Rice Gallery curator Kimberly Davenport will also be organizing signature site-specific installations for this new arts mecca.

Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, 2402 Munger. With its adjoining Smither Park, the Orange Show comprises an active and engaging testament to outsider art and the creative impulse within all of us. Producer of spring’s annual Art Car Parade — which just celebrated three decades — and preserver of captivating and odd monuments like the Beer Can House (222 Malone), the OS occupies an important place in the hearts and minds of Houstonians.

Project Row Houses, 2521 Holman St. Historic shotgun houses in the Third Ward define the concept of social practice and social sculpture, while earning co-founder Rick Lowe a MacArthur “Genius” Award. Painter, DJ, and radio host Tierney Malone, the keeper of Houston’s jazz history, recently presented his Jazz Church Houston as part of PRH salons, performances, and dialogues, timed to Super Bowl LI. Curator Ryan Dennis organized an edition of “Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter” this spring, that was both powerful and memorable.

 

Artists’ Studios (Just In)

Since Houston is home to the third largest community of working artists in the country, it would be impossible to list all studios. But now thanks to developer Jon Deal and pals, there is a critical mass, around the Washington Avenue Arts District. Lining the corridor toward downtown, and encompassing the old First and Sixth Wards, revamped, heroic warehouses are the de facto face of the district: the restored and professionalized Winter Street Studios (2101 Winter St.) gave birth to the studio movement, followed by Spring Street Studios (1824 Spring St.), Silver Street Studios (2000 Edwards St.), and The Silos at Sawyer Yards (1502 Sawyer), as well as Summer Street Studios (2204 Summer St.). The perennially popular Second Saturdays are way to discover the democratic offerings of the warehouse spaces, meet individual artists, tour their studios, and acquire often surprisingly affordable works.

 

Catarina Williams and Erin Davis contributed to this guide as photo editors. All images courtesy the artists and their respective galleries.

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